Burnham & Root, Rialto Building, Chicago, at the rear of the Board of Trade, facing Van Buren, 1883. (Hoffmann, Root)

1883 marked the highpoint of Boyington’s career. Once the erection of the Board of Trade’s superstructure had actually commenced, however, Armour, Kent, and Bensley apparently no longer needing to keep him focused on completing the Board of Trade with the promise of their planned office building in back of it, dropped him from the second building, and hired Burnham & Root to design it, a belated apology for the loss of the Board of Trade from the corrupt competition. Although they had by that time produced three ten-story buildings, these were meager projects when compared to the grandeur of Boyington’s Board of Trade and Royal Insurance Buildings or to Beman’s Pullman Palace. Finally, they had the chance to design a large skyscraper in a similar scale. This event marked the beginning of the rise of Burnham & Root as having overtaken Boyington for the reputation as being Chicago’s leading architectural firm.  

George B. Post, Mills Building, New York, 1881. (Landau, Post)

At this time they were confronted with the design of an even larger program (the project had grown to twelve stories, the first building in the U.S. that I can find to have been so proposed), American Architect had just published a full account of George Post’s design of the Mills Building in New York, a project very similar in program and scale. Instead of continuing with Boyington’s scheme of wrapping the entire site with a double-loaded corridor around an exterior lightwell in the center, however, Burnham and Root were influenced by Post’s Mills Building and Beman’s Pullman Building and placed the external light court immediately above the main entrance on Van Buren on axis with the central entrance of the La Salle Street Station, breaking the 175′ long elevation into two smaller masses.  The design was announced early in March 1883, paralleling the timeline of Beman’s work on the Pullman Building, but now Burnham and Root would experience the same frustration Boyington had known in waiting for a decision by the owners to start construction, as no action on the project was taken for a number of months.  

Map of the Loop, 1883. (Author’s collection)

Although hindsight reveals a consistent pattern of stalling on the part of Armour, Kent, and Bensley with respect to this project from 1882 to 1885, a more immediate concern for them at this time had been the 1883 strike by Chicago’s bricklayers.  The owners had leaked rumors once again early in November 1883, hinting that construction on the mammoth building was to begin in the coming spring of 1884.  During the intervening period following the last rumor of its imminent construction, Burnham & Root apparently had reworked much of the project.  I’ve decided to include this design here rather than push it back to 1885 when its construction finally began because while the floor plan changed, I believe the overall exterior design of the project changed little in Root’s mind from when he first conceived it in mid-1883.  I also believe that by the time the owners finally gave the go ahead, Burnham & Root were inundated with other large projects, including the Phoenix and the Rookery, so that Root had little time to spare in redesigning a building he had already spent an inordinate amount of effort for naught.

Burnham & Root, Rialto Building. Note the skylight at the bottom of the lightcourt, and the projected Oriel Window from the circulation core. To the right, across the alley is the Board of Trade’s office building. The narrow distance between the two walls explains why the Board’s south elevation was required to be sheathed in white glazed brick. (Top: Chicagology.com; Bottom: Rand McNally View #9)

The plans completed during the summer of 1884 revealed a 90° rotation of the 1883 floor plan.  The original external lightcourt had been removed from the entrance on Van Buren Street and duplicated in both the east and west fronts, creating a very efficient H-plan. The external lightcourts now marked the entries on the Pacific and Sherman Street faces that were covered with iron and glass skylights at the third-floor level, similar to how Post had designed the entrance in the Mills Building.The Van Buren elevation now ran unbroken for its entire 175′ frontage.  In essence, Burnham had placed two nine-story, double-loaded office slabs on the north and the south sides of the lot, joining them in the center with a circulation spine that contained five elevators and a circular stairway contained within a projected oriel window (similar to Peter Ellis’ 16 Cook Street that Root would have seen during his student days in Liverpool).  

Peter Ellis, 16 Cook Street, Liverpool. (Online)

The north face of the building was to be linked to the Board of Trade’s main floor by an iron bridge that spanned the alley between the two buildings.  Looking for his “theme,” Root latched onto the bridge and associated it with the Rialto Bridge over the Grand Canal in Venice for his inspiration, including its name.  

Rialto Bridge over the Grand Canal, Venice.

Root was quite partial to the writings of John Ruskin, especially his Stones of Venice (1851), and conceived of the building in a sympathetic “Venetian Gothic” language.  The “Gothic” language would have allowed Root to easily experiment with his first use of the pier-and-spandrel language, rather than the wall language of his past skyscrapers, an opportunity to again play catch-up with Post’s design of the Mills Building.  Instead of detailing the walls as planes, the elevations were comprised of a highly skeletal composition of vertical structural elements, counterbalanced with recessed horizontals.

Burnham & Root, Rialto Building. Imagine the color of the building’s exterior varying from a black base, then a dark brown grading up to a bright yellow at the top, especially when seen in conjunction against the all-white south elevation of the Board of Trade’s office building (just visible at the far left). (Chicagology.com)

Confronted with the 175′ length of the Van Buren elevation (only the Burlington’s 199′ front along Franklin Street had presented him with a greater length), Root continued his practice of emphasizing the entrance by increasing the size of the piers that flanked it.  Between these and the substantial corner piers (the corner piers avoided the nasty problem of how to detail the corner when the piers from both sides finally met), Root set a series of inset piers detailed as buttresses. He visually detailed these to narrow in section in the upper floors (6-9)  with a progression of additive ribs in a sequence of 1:2:3 that formed a gothic cluster on each corner of the piers as they ascended unbroken for four stories.  

Burnham & Root, Rialto Building. Close-up of attached ribs on the piers as they progress 1-2-3. (Hoffmann, Meanings)

Originally, Root apparently desired to reinforce the unleashed verticality of the piers by varying the color of the brick from dark at the base to light at the top, reinforcing the sense of visual perspective. Root had evolved his ideas pertaining to the use of color in architecture from the theories of John Ruskin that were, once again, grounded in Venetian Gothic. Root was attempting to transcend Victorian “structural” polychromy, that is achieving color in a building’s façade using “truthful” real materials, with “applied” polychromy, quoting Ruskin’s idea that color in nature is independent of form. (He would later attempt to use this detail also in the Monadnock, but to no avail. This technique would eventually be used in the upper portions of Art Deco skyscrapers.) This idea was consistent with his latest thoughts on the use of color in buildings that he had recently published in Inland Architect: “The Art of Pure Color” in the August 1883 issue and “Architectural Ornamentation” in the April 1885 issue:

“In large buildings the use of several colors should be less violent, so that while the general tone may be deep and full as we can make it, the variations of color are subtle and are obtained through gradations instead of contrasts… Probably no higher art exists than this: to produce in a great building that wonderful bloom obtained by mosaics of pure color.”

Note that he has used the term “bloom,” the same word used by critics to describe the effect that Owen Jones had achieved with his use of colors in his designs that spanned from the 1851 Crystal Palace to London’s St. James’ Hall.

The piers grew out of the ground as individual elements, unimpeded except for a sillcourse that Root placed above the second floor as an attempt to demark a horizontal base in the building’s elevations that would also tie in the two-story arched entry pavilions (the only arches used in the building’s exterior).  He reinforced this base by infilling the void between the piers in the first two floors with a bay or oriel window (once again, a detail he first saw in Liverpool’s Oriel Chambers as a student), recessed to the back plane of the piers that not only permitted one to view more of a pier’s mass, but also lent a sense of volume to the oriels, as if they were being restrained by the piers. 

Burnham & Root, Rialto Building. Close-up of the oriel bays between the piers in the ground floor. (Hoffmann, Root)
Peter Ellis, Oriel Chambers, Liverpool, 1864. Note the operable windows at each side of the central fixed pane, an early precedent of the “Chicago window.” (Online)

The piers then shot into the sky, unbroken by, and thus dominating the recessed roofline, terminating in an abstracted pinnacle, that I see Root appropriating from the Doge’s Palace. Root articulated the top floor with a continuous balcony detail that he projected beyond the plane of the piers on brackets: a detail not unlike that used by George Post in the Western Union Building. 

George Post, Western Union Building, New York, 1872. (Silver, Lost New York)

This break in the vertical ascent of the piers allowed Root to further emphasize the top floor by changing the window spacing between the piers from two to three.  The corner piers were then topped by even taller pyramidal-roofed turrets that could be construed as bell towers.  The turrets also found their way down to the Van Buren entrance, where they flanked the entryway, for which Root reserved a pointed arch, reprising (or restating) the Gothic theme he had woven throughout the building.

Burnham & Root, Rialto Building. Van Buren Street entrance. (Left: Hoffmann, Meanings; Right: Chicago InterOcean, Oct. 20, 1889)

The building’s construction echoed that of its contemporaries: an exterior masonry box surrounding an interior that was completely supported with an iron skeleton frame.  Root had taken the pier-and-lintel language of Boyington’s Royal Insurance Building and extended it completely around all four sides of the building, echoing George Post’s structure of the Mills Building.  Root was quickly catching up to Post.

Burnham & Root, Rialto Building. Demolition photo revealing the iron skeletal framing in the interior. (Chicagology)

Root has been chastised by a number of historians for the design of the Rialto’s elevations, that seemed to have been entirely out-of-character with his firm’s other commercial designs.  There were no arched windows that supposedly deviated from the narrative that Root was following Richardson’s lead in using the Romanesque Revival. This narrative is simplistic, and, quite frankly, is an injustice to what I believe were Root’s true artistic ideas. I have shown you Root’s first six commercial designs.  The only one that comes to close to the “Romanesque Revival” is the Burlington Building because at least it uses the semicircular arched window with regularity. But it was based on a Renaissance palazzo, and looks more like one than it does a Romanesque church, doesn’t it?  Root was not, especially in the first half of the 1880s, beholden to any one style, including the Romanesque.  Like his piano improvisations, he based his compositions on a theme, and he was more than sufficiently talented to, and I’m sure, relished the challenge of, designing each building in a “style” that fit his chosen theme.


Hoffmann, Donald. The Architecture of John Wellborn Root. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973.

Monroe, Harriet. John Wellborn Root; A Study of His Life and Work. Park Forest: Prairie School Press, 1966.

(If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to eMail me at: thearchitectureprofessor@gmail.com)


W.W. Boyington, Royal Insurance Building, Chicago, 1883. Left: Jackson elevation; Right: Quincy elevation. (Left: Gilbert, Chicago; Right: Inland Architect, Sept. 1884)

We can now return to Boyington’s first attempt with the pier-and-spandrel elevation in the Royal Insurance Building. I think because he had the two long side bearing walls on the east and west for lateral support he felt confident that he could experiment with this relative new technique on such a tall building. Curiously, Boyington’s designs of the two elevations for the Royal Insurance Building were somewhat unrelated, that if one didn’t know better, would have led an observer to think that either they were different buildings, or at least designed by different architects.  Most likely, this was a response to context and budget, for the more visible Jackson Street elevation was constructed of expensive red granite that played to the Board of Trade, while the Quincy Street facade was sheathed in a less expensive combination of sandstone and red brick.  Materials notwithstanding, even the composition of the two elevations were also different, leading one to speculate whether Boyington considered the design of two exterior facades as an opportunity to experiment with the design of this new type of building.

Left: Pullman Building; Right: Royal Insurance Building. (Author’s collection)

As Boyington had an extra half-story to play with than did Beman, the body of the Royal Insurance Building rose even higher than that of the Pullman Building.  This allowed Boyington to match the 165′ height of the Pullman’s corner turret by placing a gable, within which was carved the company’s coat-of-arms, above the roofline over the central entrance bay in the Jackson elevation.

Boyington, Royal Insurance Building. Jackson Street Elevation. I have digitally removed a later addition from this postcard. (Online)

In contrast to the horizontal layering employed by Beman, Boyington achieved a remarkable vertical statement in the upper body of the Jackson elevation where the piers extended unbroken for five floors.  Boyington detailed these piers as colossal pilasters that stood on one-story pedestals that were grouped as their own transitional layer between the piers above and the building’s rusticated two-story arcaded base.  These piers supported the building’s top floor that was detailed as a cornice.  This five-story range of piers owed its overall language to Burnham & Root’s Calumet Building in its flatness and five-bay, six-pier rhythm, as well as in the way that the center bay’s piers not only increased in thickness to articulate the entrance, but also because it had smaller windows than the flanking bays.  Most interesting of all, the larger windows in the outer bays were detailed as “Chicago windows,” like those in Adler’s Revell Building, and mark the first use of this device in a tall office building.

Left: Royal Insurance Building; Right: Calumet Building. Both elevations employ five vertical piers, with the middle two widened to emphasize the entrance. (Author’s collection)

Curiously, in contrast to the radical departures explored in the Jackson facade, the Quincy Street elevation was more traditional.  The Chicago window was replaced by the standard paired, double-hung window.  He moved the arcade that was in the base of the Jackson façade to the top of the Quincy elevation, attempting to create a nine-story tall arcade running across the façade.  The arches, however, were simply carved relief panels (not unlike Adler’s Borden Block), avoiding the cost of curved glass and the corresponding reduction of daylight caused by arches.  However, the implied nine-story arcade across the face of the building was hard to read because the continuous cornice lines at the third, fifth and eighth floors severely compromised the ability to read the potential height of the uniformly-dimensioned, unbroken piers.  In fact, Boyington showed his allegiance to tradition in the detailing of the piers that was not uniform, as he used fluting in the two central piers to demark the central, entrance bay as well as in the corner piers to frame the elevation.  Meanwhile, he downplayed the intermediate piers to either side of the entrance by not fluting these and carrying the spandrels through them at each floor.

Boyington, Royal Insurance Building. Quincy Street elevation. (Left: Van Zanten, Sullivan’s City; Right: Inland Architect, Sept. 1884)

(If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to eMail me at: thearchitectureprofessor@gmail.com)


W.W. Boyington, Royal Insurance Building, Chicago, 1883. Jackson Street elevation. (Gilbert, Chicago and Its Makers)

As if the two architects were in a race with one another to design the tallest building in Chicago, no sooner had Beman begun construction on the Pullman Building, than Boyington won the competition for a ten-story building for the Royal Insurance Company of Liverpool, England.  A competition with eight architects was held in May 1883, their drawings being sent to England where the company awarded the commission to Boyington in June.  The company had acquired the lot immediately to the west of C.C. Counselman’s lot on the northeast corner of La Salle and Jackson Streets, diagonally opposite Boyington’s Board of Trade, then well under construction.  Because the lot at 160 W. Jackson was in the interior of the block and ran the entire 165′ depth of the block to Quincy Street, the building would have two front elevations, one on Jackson, the other on Quincy, that had no visual connection.  The rather limiting configuration of the site, with its greater dimension denied any exterior exposure on the west by other proposed tall office buildings, forced Boyington into an interior court scheme similar to what he was proposing for the Armour, Kent, and Bensley building. Boyington arranged 163 offices around a balustraded nine-story interior atrium that apparently was quite breathtaking, for even fifteen years later the 1898 Rand-McNally Guide to Chicago would state that “The interior is one of the sights of the city.” 

Boyington, Royal Insurance Building. Close-up of rooftop view, showing the U-plan and skylight over the atrium. (Rand-McNally View #1)

By May 1883, Chicago’s architects had sufficiently experimented with the rational pier-and-spandrel language that even “Old man Boyington” felt confident to abandon his tried-and-true language of the masonry wall and employed his first use of the rectilinear language in his elevations for the Royal Insurance Building.  In order to better understand these, however, we must go back two years and trace the parallel development of this new language among Chicago’s architects from where we left it with Adler’s Borden Block and Burling’s First national Bank.


Early skyscrapers: Comparison of Pullman Building to Mills Building. (Author’s collection)

When we compare Chicago’s first 10-story skyscraper, the Pullman Building (let’s be honest, Root’s three meager 10-story brick shafts don’t stack up to the name) with Post’s 10-story Mills Building, it is evident that while Post was moving quickly to a rational rectilinear language of pier-and-spandrel, Beman’s inexperience relied on the stability of the traditional masonry box punctuated with windows.  This is not meant to imply that Chicago’s architects were not interested in the rational elevational language, but rather the fact is that Post was just this much more in the lead in developing this language (as he was in so many other facets of the early skyscraper).

Dankmar Adler, Borden Block, Chicago, NW corner of Dearborn and Randolph, 1880. (Chicagology.com)

For example, Adler’s design of the Borden Block revealed that Jenney’s rational expression of structure in the Leiter Building had been accepted in Chicago as an appropriate alternative to the layered wall as an elevational motif for the red brick box. I have traced the lineage of the family tree of the rational elevation back to the Shillito’s Building in Cincinnati, before its New York and Chicago branches split off in their own pursuit.  One could argue that portions of Adler’s Central Music Hall should then be included as next in line after the Leiter Building, but the building’s overall image still appeared to be more traditionally wall-oriented.  

Adler with Sullivan, Revell Building, Chicago, NE corner of Adams and Wabash, 1881. (Morrison, Louis Sullivan)

The conservative nature of the design and construction of the Pullman Building’s exterior walls (but let’s remember that it was a 10-story building vs. Adler’s six-story designs) is all the more apparent when compared to the Revell Furniture Company Building designed by Adler (with Louis Sullivan) in late 1881 for lumber magnate and real estate investor Martin Ryerson.  The Revell design was actually the culmination of two earlier designs in 1881 by Adler (with Sullivan) for small, walk-up storefronts that picked up with the language of the structural frame infilled with the triple-window where Jenney had left it with the Leiter Building.  

Adler with Sullivan, Rothschild Store, Chicago, 210 W. Monroe, 1881. To the far right is the only photograph I can find of the original height of the First Leiter Building. (urbanremainschicago.com)

Following the Borden Block’s double window language, Adler (with Sullivan) first used the triple-window in the two-bay storefront for Emanuel Rothschild and Brothers at 210 W. Monroe, appropriately next door to the Leiter Building.  As opposed to Jenney’s detailing, however, the floor spandrels were recessed in the third, fourth and fifth floors to allow the three masonry piers to read more as continuous vertical elements (albeit they were still interrupted with capitals at each floor intersection) with more success than those of the Borden Block.  What really made this elevation read “vertical” was first, its narrow width, and second, the detailing of the cast iron mullions to be continuous verticals that is credited to the hand of Sullivan. These imparted a definite vertical emphasis to the elevation that was also reinforced by a progression in the window heads: flat-headed in floors 1-3, segmental arches in floor 4, to semi-circular arches in the top floor, once again using the arch to terminate elevation.

Adler with Sullivan, Rothschild Store. Cornice. (urbanremainschicago.com)

The second storefront was the Jewelers Building at 15 S. Wabash Street for Martin Ryerson.  Here Adler (with Sullivan) again employed the triple-window with continuous mullions, but now these were framed by what amounted to corner pavilions created by joining two piers with their spandrels.  The corner pavilions were detailed by grouping the adjacent masonry piers on either side of the single window to read as a continuous solid masonry surface with a punched window in it.  The two pavilions were tied into a single plane by a segmental arch that spanned the center bay. As opposed to varying the shape of the window heads to create a sense of progression, they doubled the number of panels in the windows in the top floor.  They also reused the polychromed horizontal and vertical language of the Revell Building.

The Jewelers’ Building’s motif of single-windowed masonry pavilions spaced apart with the intervening void infilled with the triple-window formed the basis of the design for the elevations of the six-story Revell Building at the northeast corner of Wabash and Adams Streets.  It was designed in mid-1881 again for Ryerson, costing over $160,000 and having a floor plan of 116′ x 172′ (which was almost three times the size of the Borden Block).

Map of the Loop, 1883. (Author’s collection)

As was the case in the Borden Block and the Jewelers’ Building, Adler and Sullivan once again seems to be inspired by Semper’s “woven wall” theory as the Revell’s elevations of red brick piers and light stone lintels were rendered in a straightforward, rectilinear language (no arched window heads), but the placement of red brick versus the light stone was so unresolved that the resulting visual cacophony of the facades would begin to hurt the eyes of a viewer within only a few moments.  It also hampered the reading of the building’s alternating language of spaced pavilions and triple windows. If there was ever an example needed to prove the negative effect of stripes on a building, this was it.  I am led to believe Sullivan scholars who give him the majority of the credit for this design, in that its “visual immaturity” would have been another example of Sullivan’s inexperience with architectural design at this early point in his career.

Adler (with Sullivan), Revell Building, Chicago, NE corner of Adams and Wabash, 1881. One of the earlier uses of the “Chicago window,” i.e., a larger central pane of fixed glass flanked by smaller operable doublehung windows. (Morrison, Louis Sullivan)

The six floors of the elevations were articulated into four horizontal layers in a 1:1:3:1 sequence, the top floor being combined with an attic of rectilinear and semi-circular recesses and detailed as a continuous cornice.  This was unfortunately compromised by the placement of ornamental pediments crowned with an acroterion above the roofline over each of the pavilions that, while breaking up the box-like appearance of the form, departed from the overall utilitarian aesthetic employed by the designers.

The Revell Building, however, contained an important departure from the two just-completed storefronts.  The triple-window was no longer a mere repetition of three double-hung windows, but comprised of a larger, fixed pane of glass in the center, flanked on both sides by a smaller, operable double-hung window for ventilation.  The Revell Building was surely one of the earliest uses of this device, soon to be known as the “Chicago window.”


Twombly, Robert. Louis Sullivan: His Life & Work, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986.

(If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to eMail me at: thearchitectureprofessor@gmail.com)


S.S. Beman, Pullman Building, Chicago, SW corner of Michigan and Adams, 1883. (Online)

If there was one capitalist in Chicago who wasn’t about to be told what to do by the “Knights of Labor” or by the Bricklayers’ union it was George M. Pullman.  Pullman was granted a building permit to construct a nine-story building on April 17, 1883, only seventeen days into the bricklayers’ strike, meaning that Beman had been working on the building for quite some time before the strike began.  A strike was not going to stop Pullman and two weeks later, in the midst of the work stoppage, Pullman decided to break ground for what was touted as Chicago’s most expensive private office building. 

Beman had reached the ripe old age of thirty when Pullman had asked him in early 1883 to design his first office building in Chicago’s business district.  This was no small task, for it was to be Chicago’s largest private office building.  Characteristically, Pullman bucked the trend to move into the Board of Trade area, for Pullman had no love for Vanderbilt or his companies after the Commodore had gained total control of the Michigan Central in 1875 and proceeded to cancel the line’s contract with Pullman in order to replace the Pullman cars with those of his major competitor, Webster Wagner, so it would have been logical for Pullman to want to be as far away as possible from the La Salle Street station.

George Post, Mills Building, New York, 1881. Entrance. (Online)

Although Pullman’s site (170′ x 127′) was slightly smaller than the Burlington’s, characteristically, Pullman wanted to add three floors of apartments (Pullman lived in his mansion at 1729 S. Prairie Avenue, the NW corner of Prairie and 18th, diagonally across from where the Glessners will build their home in 1885) and private dining spaces to the Burlington’s six floors of office space, resulting in another of Chicago’s early mixed-use projects (including the Central Music Hall).  In essence, his building was conceived as a stationary, but much larger Pullman Palace Car, once again following the “Pullman system.”  To top off this challenge for Beman, Pullman’s ego also demanded that his building be the tallest privately-owned building in the city, something that Beman was already used to with the Pullman water tower.    Faced with the design of such a new building type for the first time, Beman evidently studied the work of the firms most experienced in such projects, George Post and Burnham & Root.  His design of the Pullman Building can be understood as taking the organization and massing of Post’s Mills Building, wrapping it with the single window, monochromatic brick and terra-cotta language of the only completed ten-story office building in Chicago at the time, Burnham & Root’s Montauk Block, and then turning the all-important corner of Michigan and Adams with the corner Post had designed for his earlier Post Building.

George Post, Post Building, New York, 1880. (Landau, Post)

At the same time, however, he rejected the radical palazzo or box-like forms of the Mills and Burlington Buildings in favor of a more traditional picturesque roof profile. Undoubtedly, Pullman wanted a more unique image for his corporate headquarters than what he thought a speculative office building looked like (ignoring the fact that the Burlington Building was just the opposite).  Also echoing both of Post’s buildings, Beman positioned the external light-court over the building’s elliptical-arched entry portal on Adams Street that broke this elevation into two awkwardly unequal masses, similar to the Post Building.

Beman, Pullman Building. Adams Street elevation. He has established a local symmetry about the entrance up to the first chimney, then the program began to demand a different elevational response, on each side. (Art Institute of Chicago)

Beman’s inexperience with such a large building, however, had placed the lightcourt on the wrong side of the building.  Instead of placing it ideally on the south side in order to minimize the loss of light from projected shadows, he had located it as a formal device on the entrance or north side, which meant that during the winter most of the windows lining the court would have been in perpetual shadow of the low sun.  Again, similar to Post’s Mills Building, an exterior entry court that was covered with a skylight led from the arched portal to the building’s entrance staircase. 

Beman, Pullman Building. Adams Street Entrance. Note how Beman subtly extended the last arch in the row of six arches above the main arch around the corner, setting up the use of the ¾ arches above. (Art Institute of Chicago)
Beman, Pullman Building. Adams Street entrance and lightcourt. My favorite detail is the use of the ¾ arches running up the elevator core: I see railroad car wheels… Also note the brick detailing on the sidewalls. (Art Institute of Chicago)
Beman, Pullman Building. Adams Street entry court. Note the proto-Art Nouveau “Ionic” volutes in the column capitals. (Art Institute of Chicago)

These were flanked by a double stairway that, along with its railing, was detailed in an ahistoric-styled, double-curved manner that appeared to foreshadow the upcoming Art Nouveau period (as did the column capitals at the entrance).  Another unique feature in Beman’s design was his use of the 3/4 circle in the stacked windows that marked the building’s circulation spine.

Beman, Pullman Building. Adams Street entrance. (Art Institute of Chicago)
Beman, Pullman Building. Entrance lobby, looking from the second floor back to the entry arch. Note the original skylight. (Art Institute of Chicago)

The lower six floors were organized as following: First-the company’s purchasing agent and rentable shops along the Adams Street front;

Beman, Pullman Building. Ground floor plan. Note the two elevator cores: the central one for the offices, the other serves the apartments, accessed from the Michigan Avenue entrance. (Pullman Museum)

Second-the offices for the company’s primary officers with Pullman having, of course, the corner window overlooking the Exposition Center (the entry courtyard and the grand stairway, therefore, provided the primary entry to this piano nobile-like organization);

Beman, Pullman Building. Second Floor Plan. Pullman’s office is at the bottom far left. The arrow locates the location of the Second Floor image below. (Pullman Museum)
Beman, Pullman Building. Second Floor Lobby to the Pullman Company offices. The elevator bank and lobby is at the left (note the offset rectangle motif in the glass) and the skylight continues into the interior. (Art Institute of Chicago)

Third-the offices for the company’s second-tier officers; Fourth-the offices for Gen. Philip Sheridan, who had been named on Nov. 1, 1883, as the Commanding General, U.S. Army, as well as the offices for the Headquarters for the Army’s Division of the Missouri. His office was the corner office, only two floors above that of Pullman’s, providing a formidable watchtower, indeed!  This location for Sheridan, directly across the street from the Exposition Building, and within the confines of the Pullman Company, was meant by Pullman, I believe, to send a simple but direct message to Chicago’s nascent “Communards.”  The Fifth Floor was occupied by the offices of both the Chicago and the Central Union Telephone Companies, while the Sixth was dedicated to private rental offices for professionals.  Two elevators off the Adams Street lobby serviced these six floors.    

Beman, Pullman Building. Michigan Avenue (residential) Entrance. Note the brick detailing: 1-the offset block motif in the second floor piers; 2-the window heads in each floor is different. (Art Institute of Chicago)

The top three floors contained over 75 well-appointed apartments, varying in size from 10 rooms for families to two rooms for bachelors.  While primarily intended for employees, any available apartment could be rented by those not affiliated with the company.  The residential floors were accessed through a separate lobby off Michigan Avenue that also provided the use of two elevators.  The ninth floor also contained the equivalent of a Pullman Dining Car: the Albion, a first-class restaurant located in the rear of the building that included private dining rooms, a parlor, and a reading room.  (These floor plans are posted on the Pullman Museum site and are thought to have come from an 1884 sales brochure printed by Turner and Bond, the agents assigned to rent the building.)

Beman, Pullman Building. Ninth Floor. The restaurant is located in the south with a view overlooking Lake Michigan. There are 14 apartments on this floor, note the largest one at the right: seven rooms plus! (Pullman Museum)

The kitchen for the restaurant was located in a partial tenth floor, that also contained housing for the servants, at the rear of the building.  All of these floors were serviced with steam heat, provided by equipment that was located in the building’s basement, with the exception of the boilers, that were moved to a separate out-building in order to minimize any damage caused by an explosion.  Most of the apartments were also provided with a fireplace, that was evident in the tall chimneys that lined the cornice of the building.

Beman, Pullman Building. View of the back (south) elevation. The arched restaurant window overlooking the lake shows three panels lit at the far right. Above this floor, is the partial tenth floor that held the kitchen and servants quarters. (Wade and Meyer, Chicago: Growth)

The building’s structure was “boxed,” that is a brick box, with windows cut into the walls that completely enclose the iron-framed (fireproofed by the Pioneer Company) interior. Beman’s use of single windows and red terra-cotta sillcourses at each floor to articulate the St. Louis red pressed brick elevations as a series of one-story, horizontal layers, tends to point to his study of the Montauk Block as his point of departure.  Fortunately, Pullman was willing to spend more money than was Peter Brooks, that allowed Beman to transcend the Montauk’s pedestrian language with a freer use of a variety of window heads.  

Beman, Pullman Building. Michigan Avenue elevation, above the entrance. My favorite brick detail is the projected keystone from which sprouts a floating arched rib. (Art Institute of Chicago)

In fact, in the eight floors above the base, he employed four different window heads: Fl. 2-segmental arch recessed within a rectangular frame; Fls. 3,7,8-segmental arch with one of my favorite details, a projected keystone that sprouted an arched rib; Fls 4,7-semicircular arch; and Fl. 9-flat-headed. There was no functional relation between the type of window head and the floor it occurred on (i.e., to differentiate between the corporate offices, the speculative offices, and the residential floors). In the Montauk Block, Root at least had a formal idea that gave the elevations a perceptible order, Beman’s elevations were random. While the shear quantity of different details spoke to Pullman’s Victorian “picturesque” aesthetic of “the more, the better” (for more evidence of this, look up the interiors of his mansion), one gains a better appreciate for Owen Jones’ call for repose in a building’s design when studying Post’s elevations for the Produce Exchange or Root’s elevations of the Burlington Building.

Beman, Pullman Building. Adams Street ground floor arcaded loggia. Unfortunately for pedestrians on a rainy day, it did not connect to the main vestibule. Note the offset block motif in the second floor piers. . (Art Institute of Chicago)

Beman also employed the Montauk’s battered stone base in red granite along Michigan Avenue, but once it turned the corner onto Adams Street, he opened it up into a arcaded loggia that, unfortunately, did not connect to the main entrance court.  Beman made turning the corner a wonderful architectonic event not only by placing a 45′ high turret (inspired by Hunt’s Vanderbilt house and Root’s recently-completed Calumet Club) at the corner that completed the building’s record 165′ height, but also by recessing the walls on either side of the corner in a manner that vertically continued the curve of the turret all the way to the building’s stone base.  The only exception was the eighth floor that was allowed to wrap around the corner of the building as a continuous surface, that made it appear to be a bracket that held in place the turret and its curved corner bay.

Solon Spenser Beman, Pullman Palace Car Building, Chicago, SW corner of Michigan and Adams, 1883. (J.W. Taylor: Chicago Historical Society)


Leyendecker, Liston Edgington. Palace Car Prince: A Biography of George Mortimer Pullman.  Niwot, CO: University of Colorado Press, 1992.

Schlereth, Thomas J., “Solon Spenser Beman,” Zukowsky, John (ed.), Chicago Architecture: 1872-1922, Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago, 1987, p. 173-187.

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As discussed in Sec. 1.6, following the squashing of the labor riots in Chicago during July 1877 by the police, aided by a unit of the U.S. Army that had camped in front of the Exposition Building to protect the Theodore Thomas “Summer Nights” concerts, then in its fourth of a planned six-week festival, Chicago’s Socialists had made significant inroads on Council with the election of four of their candidates in the November 1878 municipal elections.  These four aldermen succeeding in prying total control of the Exposition Center away from its Board of Directors, rightfully stating that the City still owned the land that the building stood on. This allowed the Socialists to reserve the Center, originally erected by Chicago’s patriarchs to offer the middle-class alternatives to Socialist speeches and rallies, and the opportunity to reverse the roles of the building.  

The highpoint of their campaign was the great protest rally in the Expo Building held to commemorate the eighth anniversary of the Paris Commune in March 1879, that was also the highwater mark for Chicago’s Socialist-leaning unions, as once the economy finally started to improve, workers found themselves employed, correspondingly reducing the immediacy of the Socialist cause.  This is not to say that the union movement in Chicago began to dissipate, for just the opposite was the reality, for what was changing was the politics or ideology of the leading unions.  The labor union scene had never been monolithic in the U. S., especially in Chicago.  The entire political spectrum from capitalism to communism had always been represented in the American labor movement from its inception.  During the labor movement’s infancy, the strength of a given union depended upon varied factors such as the given abilities of its leaders, the state of the economy, the ethnicity of its members, and what industry the union represented.  By no means were all labor unions in America flying the Communist red flag, or after the 1872 split between the Marxists and the Anarchists, the black flag of the supporters of Mikhail Bakunin. Following the police’s violent crushing of the 1877 railroad strike in Chicago, a small, but dedicated fringe of the Socialist Labor Party (the WPUS had changed its name in 1877) became convinced that the only way things were going to change was to abandon the capitalist electoral system and press for revolution via armed force.  Bakunin had been right!  For Germans in Chicago who had experienced firsthand the 1848 revolutions back in the home country, it was time to organize their own paramilitary groups, the Lehr-und-Wehr Vereines (Education and Defense Societies), to counter the force of the police and state militias.

The first American revolutionary socialist club had been founded in New York in November 1880.  In July 1881, representatives of the New York group attended a congress in London that founded the anarchist International Working People’s Association (IWPA) as a successor to the original Communist IWA.  When they returned home, the New Yorkers called for an American congress of Revolutionary Socialists that was to be held in Chicago in October 1881.   The 1881 Congress was organized by Albert Parsons, who had completely abandoned the political system following his harrowing experience during the 1877 strike, and German-born August Spies, the editor of the Socialist newspaper, the Chicagoer Arbeiter-Zeitung.  Members had pledged their support to “armed organizations of workingmen who stand ready to resist, gun in hand, any encroachment upon their rights.”  This call to revolution had effectively split the socialist labor movement between the Socialist Labor Party and the anarchist IWPA, who met two years later at the Second National Congress of Revolutionary Socialist Clubs in Pittsburgh. It was here, that Spies, along with Parsons described the “Chicago idea” in which labor unions were to be co-opted to be the leader or organizer of the revolution and to be the institutor of post-capitalist anarchy. The Pittsburgh Proclamation that had been approved, declared the organization of the American wing of the IWPA for “destruction of the existing class rule by all means” and for the establishment of an economic system based upon “free contracts between the autonomous (independent) communes and associations, resting upon a federalistic basis.” The Chicago anarchists had a meager, but nonetheless committed following.

The IWPA was but one extreme bookend of the Labor movement during the first half of the 1880s.  At the other extreme in both philosophy and membership size was the Knights of Labor.  Founded as a secret union to protect its members from reprisals by employers in Philadelphia in 1870, the Knights filled the vacuum created by the demise of the National Labor Union in 1873, and under its highly effective Grand Master, Terence Powderly, would increase in membership to 700,000 by 1886.  Powderly thought that strikes were a “relic of barbarism” but the union was so large and diverse in its membership that it increasingly did support strikes, but for economic and not ideological purposes.  Its primary concern was again, the eight-hour workday.  Unions in the Chicago Labor movement during the first half of the 1880s operated between these two poles, with the central power of the Chicago labor movement during the first half of the 1880s residing with the Amalgamated Trades and Labor Assembly. The city’s popular mayor during this period, Carter Harrison, owed some of his success to his sympathetic cooperation with this group.

As the approaching building season for 1883 promised to be one of Chicago’s biggest with the new Board of Trade, the Armour, Kent, and Bensley project, the Calumet, and numerous rumors of other projects in the Board of Trade area, the city’s unionized bricklayers sensed the time was ripe not only to demand an increase in their daily wage, but also to eliminate all wage differentials among the membership (especially those based on productivity and quality of craftmanship) in favor of a uniform rate for all of their members.    Since the 1871 fire, the masons had slowly taken over more and more control of the building process from the carpenters, until it was now they who were the most important group of workers in the erection of the city’s large, brick bearing wall buildings.  In 1879 they had formed the local United Order of American Bricklayers and Stonemasons.  The over-reliance of Chicago’s construction industry on bricks had already brought about a strike by Chicago’s brickmakers the prior summer of 1882 (which may help to explain the relative slowness of construction in 1882) and had whetted the appetites of the city’s bricklayers.  On April 1, 1883, the Union pulled its members off the construction site of the Board of Trade, demanding that a wage schedule of four dollars for a ten-hour day, initiating a strike that lasted for two and a half months into the middle of June, when it was finally resolved with the adoption of the wage rate without the demand for a union shop.


Jentz, John B. and Richard Schneirov. Chicago in the Age of Capital. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2012.

Schneirov, Richard. Labor and Urban Politics: Class Conflict and the Origins of Modern Liberalism in Chicago, 1864-97. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1998.

Siry, Joseph M. The Chicago Auditorium Building. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002.

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Left: S.S. Beman, Pullman Building, Chicago, SW corner of Michigan and Adams, 1883; Right: Burnham & Root, Montauk Block, 1881. (Author’s collection)

While I have concentrated on the early skyscrapers of Root (Montauk, Counselman, and Calumet that were mere 10-story masonry tubes) and those either under construction or proposed by Boyington (the 302’ tower of the Board of Trade, the 10-story Board of Trade office building, and the proposed Bensley Building at the rear of the Board of Trade that was projected to be 154’ with a 200’ tower), the first Chicago building actually constructed that might be considered to be the equivalent in scale, height, and quality of detail to that of New York’s Mills Building would have been the 165’ high Pullman Building by another New York City architectural emigrant, Solon Spenser Beman.  As it was his first ten-story building, Beman relied not on Root’s more recent designs, but the conservative aesthetic of the Montauk Block, that, in truth, Root had already discarded.  

We last encountered George Pullman having lost in the 1871 fire his Pullman Palace Car Company building designed by Burling & Baumann in 1867 at the northeast corner of Michigan and Randolph, across the street from the Illinois Central Station. Following his success in the building raising business prior to the start of the Civil War, Pullman had moved on to solving another challenge: making sleeping in a railroad car a comfortable experience.  Having started with his first sleeping car in 1862, Pullman had grown his company into the largest manufacturer of sleeping cars by 1879, with his Pullman Palace Cars being used by many railroads all throughout the country.  He had but one requisite caveat in each contract he made with an individual railroad:  his company would employ the personnel who were in charge of the car (conductor, porter, and when needed, cook) as well as be in sole control of providing all linens and all interior maintenance on each car.  Pullman, therefore, was solely in control not only of the manufacture of each car that bore his name, but also all of the personnel needed for its operation, in what would be known as the “Pullman system.”  This allowed him to control the quality of the passenger’s total experience (and its cost).  Today he would be labeled a “control freak;” back then his attitude would be better described as paternalistic.  

Nathan F. Barrett and Solon Spenser Beman, Town of Pullman, 1879. (Zukowsky, Growth of a Metropolis)

While he had long contemplated the erection of a new corporate headquarters following the fire, the recession had forced him to postpone such an expenditure, but following the 1877 national railroad strike,  his attention had then been focused on a much more important project: pulling together all of his manufacturing operations from all over the country to centralize them in one location so that he could oversee (and control) the entire fabrication process.  Like the design and operation of a Pullman Palace Car, he also wanted to control where (and how) his employees worked and lived, so he had also envisaged Pullman, a “company town” where the employees’ housing that he provided, was within walking distance to their jobs.  Pullman and his Board of Directors eventually agreed that the Chicago area would be the best location for the project, but for a number of reasons, including avoiding any political regulation and taxes, the new town had to be far enough away from the city proper to prevent any of Chicago’s radical union activities to taint the workers, especially in the wake of the 1877 national railroad strike.  And in early 1879, no industry in the U.S. was more concerned over or more affected by union violence than was the railroad industry.

A highly secret study for available land for the project eventually focused on 4000 acres located 14 miles to the south of the city in Hyde Park Township (centered around today’s 111 Street and S. Cottage Grove Avenue), that was along the Illinois Central’s tracks into the city (to provide direct access for the new cars produced).  The company bought 500 acres for the manufacturing complex, while Pullman deeded the remaining 3500 acres to the Pullman Land Association for the construction of the new town.  For the design of the overall layout of the town and its landscaping, Pullman brought to Chicago in the summer of 1879 New York landscape architect Nathan F. Barrett, who had been landscaping Pullman’s summer estate, Fairlawn, in Long Beach, NJ.  Barrett had introduced Pullman to Solon Spenser Beman, a twenty-six year old architect, also from New York City who had apprenticed with Richard Upjohn before starting his own firm in 1877, whom Pullman also brought to Chicago and placed him in charge of the entire architectural design and construction of the buildings for new town. 

S.S. Beman, Water Tower, Pullman, 1880. (Left: Chicago Architecture; Right: Online)

The visual landmark of the town’s plan was Beman’s 195′ high water tower that was constructed in 1880.  The lower two-thirds of the tower was 68′ square in plan and contained rooms in which were performed a variety of functions in the manufacture of Pullman’s cars.  Above this masonry cube the corners of the plan were chamfered to form an octagon in plan for the upper third of the tower that contained the water tank that was surrounded by a winding stair to the tower’s cupola.  The iron water tank, reported to have been the largest in the world at the time (over 500,000 gal.), was supported on trusses that sat on four large wrought iron columns that extended over 100′ from the basement of the tower.  (These were the obvious precedent for the 90’ tall iron columns used in 1883 to support the upper portion of Boyington’s Board of Tarde tower.) These were fabricated by Pullman’s own Car-Wheel Works that Pullman had created by offering N.S. Bouton the opportunity to move his company out of Chicago and closer to one of his primary customers in the new town.  In 1881, Bouton’s Union Foundry Works had merged with Pullman’s Car-Wheel Works.

Beman, Pullman Water Tower. Section, Elevation. The 100′ tall iron columns that support the 500,000 gal. tank. (Online)

Beman sheathed the tower in the 1870s fashionable contrasting color scheme of red brick and light stone, displaying his subtle compositional sensitivity in the ornamental inversions he employed between the two materials as they progressed up the elevations of the tower.  Beman’s youthful virtuosity is all the more noteworthy for the tower had overtaken Boyington’s Chicago Water Tower by twelve feet to become the highest structure in the Chicago area, a title it held for five years until Boyington regained it 1885 with the completion of the Board of Trade’s tower.  To provide power for the entire complex, Pullman had purchased the great Corliss steam engine that had been built for the 1876 World’s Fair (see Vol. II, Sec. 5.3), but had since been disassembled and sat in its Providence, RI, warehouse.

Map of the Loop, 1883. (Author’s collection)

Meanwhile, Pullman had also been contemplating the erection of a new corporate headquarters in the business district. Perhaps being goaded by the success of the Burlington’s new office building, Pullman was granted a building permit to construct a nine-story building, not at his pre-fire lot at the northeast corner of Michigan and Randolph, but four blocks farther south at the  southwest corner of Michigan Avenue and Adams Street (joining the general move to the south and continuing the development of the Adams Street corridor).  Perhaps even more influential in his choice of this site was its location immediately across from the Interstate Exposition Center, that by 1883 had become the “Ground Zero” of the local conflict between the city’s capitalists and its growing labor movement, pushing for the eight-hour workday.  Was it also simply coincidental that it was only a block away from the Armory of the First Regiment of the Illinois National Guard that had been erected at Michigan and Monroe only two years earlier, or that Pullman gave Gen. Philip Sheridan who by the time the building was completed had been named Commanding General, U.S. Army having succeeded Gen. William T. Sherman on Nov. 1, 1883, the Fourth Floor for the offices of the U.S. Army? 

(If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to eMail me at: thearchitectureprofessor@gmail.com)


Burnham & Root, Counselman Building, Chicago, NW corner of La Salle and Jackson, 1883. Left: At the left is the Royal Insurance Building. (Leslie, Chicago); Right: (Hoffman, Root)

Another member of the Board of Trade clique was Charles C. Counselman, one of the Board’s major traders who also owned the Terminal Grain Elevators used by the Rock Island, hence, his connection to the move of the Board closer to the station.  Counselman had waited to start construction on the small corner site he had acquired at the northwest corner of La Salle and Jackson, adjacent to the site for the Royal Insurance and opposite the main entrance of the Board of Trade, until the construction of the Board of Trade had proceeded sufficiently to assure its completion.  

Map of Loop, 1882. (Author’s collection)

In the Spring of 1883 he commissioned Burnham & Root to design a ten-story building, similar to the Montauk and the Calumet Building, two buildings in the same genre of small, and therefore cost-effective, ten-story spikes of masonry, but with only a 56′ frontage on La Salle and 60′ along Jackson, the Counselman Building’s footprint was even smaller than either of its older siblings. The fact that the Counselman’s elevations resembled neither of these but instead those of the Burlington’s reveals Root’s interest in differentiating the architectonic concept of a “wall building” versus that for a “corner building,” as he continued to experiment in his search for an appropriate solution to this new typology. 

Burnham & Root. Two “wall building” elevations employing two-story paired windows under an arch: left: Grannis; Right: Calumet. (Author’s collection)

In the Counselman Building, he used neither the single-window, every-floor-articulated language of the Montauk (that, in truth, he never returned to), nor the double-window grouped under a shallow arch language used in his “wall Buildings,” the Grannis and the Calumet Buildings.  He opted, instead, to further develop the two-story, arched single-window language of the Burlington Building, a building on a similar corner lot.

Burnham & Root. Comparison of Counselman and Burlington elevations. Note the use of the same two-story, single window motif on the right side of the corner vs. the inversion of multiple windows used on the left side. (Author’s collection)

For the first time, he also eliminated any continuous statement of the intermediate floor in each of the two-floor layers, allowing the brick piers to read at the larger, two-story scale as single entities.  The two-story layers in the elevation were separated by intervening single-story bands of square-headed windows and carved panels of gridwork.  Root reversed the rhythm of the Calumet and layered the Counselman in a 1:1:2:1:2:1:2 sequence that appeared to flow easier to the top of the building than did the Calumet. He broke the pure repetition in the top layer by using complete semicircular windows instead of the segmental arches used in the lower two layers. (With this detail he had inverted his use of semicircular arches in the ground floor of the Burlington Building.)  Vertically, Root played the same game of inversions between the two facades as he had also done in the Burlington design.  The Jackson elevation consisted of a rhythm of paired-single-paired windows, while this was inverted on the La Salle elevation to single-paired-single window.  Root sheathed the body of the building once again in red pressed brick and terra cotta, and placed it on a base of red granite, the same material that Boyington was using in the Royal Insurance Building.  The only truly awkward feature of the design was the entrance, that like the Montauk’s, was forced into an asymmetrical location because of the location of the elevators due to the tightness of the plan.  The problem of the design of the entrance was only furthered by its lack of integration within the height of the one-story base.

Burnham & Root, Counselman Building. (Inland Architect, April 1884)

Nonetheless, of Root’s three related, ten-story office buildings, it was generally agreed that the Counselman was the best.  Inland Architect reported, “The extreme simplicity of the exterior design is in accordance with the disposition of our best architects to dispense with all superfluous projections, whether for ornament or otherwise, and seek effect in strength and massiveness and utility in giving all possible advantage to the lighting of the interior.  This, in the Counselman Building, is carried out in a high degree.”  Indeed, by the middle of 1883 Burnham & Root were coming to grips with the aesthetics of the “simplicity” of the red brick box.  


Hoffmann, Donald. The Architecture of John Wellborn Root. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973.

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Burnham & Root, Calumet Building, Chicago, 111. S. La Salle, 1882. (Hoffmann, Meanings)

As opposed to Boyington, who was now at the top of his game, and surely must have thoroughly enjoyed 1882 with the design of two of Chicago’s largest, and tallest buildings, Burnham & Root’s loss of the Board of Trade commission was a large blow to their short-term profitability.  Even though they would design seven buildings within a block and a half of the Board of Trade by 1886 (four of these would form the bulk of the seven new buildings that would be built along the two blocks of La Salle Street immediately north of the Board of Trade that would create the “Wall Street” effect), these projects had to wait until the Board of Trade was well under way.  Although they could sit back and smugly watch the cost of its construction mount, without the Board of Trade project in the office, 1882 proved to be a rather lean year for the ambitious duo, especially coming after a year as auspicious as had been 1881.  The one bright spot for Root, as I mentioned earlier, was his marriage to his late wife’s best friend, Dora Louise Monroe on December 12, 1882.

Fortunately for them, the contractors of the Montauk Block, George Mortimer and William Tapper, owned a small parcel of land on La Salle Street just south of Monroe Street. Once the last hurdle in the Illinois Supreme Court to the move of the Board of Trade had been cleared in March 1882, property owners along La Salle Street licked their chops and began to make improvements, anticipating the movement to the south.  As with the recent construction along Dearborn, Monroe Street, that was exactly halfway between the old financial district along Washington and the new area centered at Jackson, was the first site of activity.  During the summer of 1882, two stories were added to the Nixon Building on the northeast corner of the intersection, while across the street on the southeast corner, a six-story addition was made to the Hammond Building.  The parcel owned by Mortimer and Tapper was adjacent to the Hammond Building and the timing couldn’t have been better for the two builders to personally profit from what they had learned in constructing the city’s first skyscraper.  Not only had excavation begun on the Board of Trade two blocks away, convincing potential renters that the future of La Salle was assured, but work on the Montauk Block was winding down and it was very efficient to keep an experienced crew on site by simply transferring them and their equipment only a block further down the street to start the excavation for a new building.

Map of the Loop, 1882. (Author’s collection)

Mortimer and Tapper were also responsible for building a few of Chicago’s other important, recently-completed buildings: the Kendall Block, the Grand Pacific Hotel, the La Salle Street Station, the First National Bank and the Grannis Block.  In fact, they teamed up with Amos Grannis to erect on their La Salle Street lot an office building for which they hired Burnham & Root to design.  As such, the Calumet Building at 111 S. La Salle can be viewed as the Montauk’s height wrapped in a Grannis-like elevation.  As discussed earlier, the Montauk’s elevation was a product more of Peter Brooks frugality than of Root’s imagination, so the Calumet offered Root the opportunity to return to his ideas for the tall office building where he had left off with the Grannis Block.  

Burnham & Root, Calumet Building. View from the north. Beyond is the Home Insurance Building (after it has had two floors added, and then at the far right is the Rookery. (Chicagology.com)

It appears that in these early tall buildings (ignoring the Montauk simply because of its prosaic nature), Root based the architectonic concept for these buildings on what type of site the building was to be designed for: an interior site presented simply a two-dimensional surface or plane (Grannis, Calumet), while a corner lot allowed the building to be perceived as a three-dimensional volume (Burlington, Counselman). The two most obvious departures from the elevation of the Montauk was, first, the jettison of the articulation of every floor with a continuous sill course (although Root still marked the lines of the intermediate floors with a terra-cotta band as he had in the Burlington Building) in favor of returning to the Grannis’ grouping of two floors vertically with two-story arches.  Second, the change from the Montauk’s single windows between the piers back to the Grannis’ double windows, again grouped within the arches, resulted in an increased proportion of glass to brick.  

The Calumet’s site was even smaller than the Montauk’s, only 78′ x 51′ deep, which meant that every inch of depth counted, and forced Root to abandon the projected entrance bay that he had used in his last three office buildings to enliven their massing.  Root was left with a simple plane of masonry to work with.  In the Calumet he still tried to emphasize the center or entrance bay by thickening its piers and placing only a single window in it.  At the base, the center piers were thinned to the same dimension of the other piers to accommodate a larger arched opening for the entrance.  Speaking of arches, Root reserved their use only in the windows of floors five and eight, and instead used the more practical rectilinear window in seven of the nine stories (the lowered ends of an arch reduced the amount of daylight that entered through the opening). 

Silliman and Farnsworth, Morse Building, New York, 1878. (Landau and Condit, New York Skyscraper)

Faced with composing the elevation, Root chose to copy the 2:1:2:1:2:1 sequence of the Morse Building, to orchestrate the elevation of the nine floors.  This arbitrary layering was not well-resolved in terms of the implied vertical continuity of the windows and their flanking masonry piers, that were broken by the sillcourses needed to create the layered effect (that Root also used to hide the ventilation grates for each office as well as the reduction in the wall thickness to account for perspective).  Root’s emphasis seemed to favor the horizontal, yet a restlessness was present, for one’s eyes could not ignore the vertical thrust of the stacked windows.  Root appears to have wanted a more “vertical” emphasis, albeit still secondary, to create a balance (repose) between horizontal and vertical.  

Burnham & Root, Comparison between Grannis Block and Calumet Building. (Author’s collection)

In the Calumet, he detailed the intermediate mullion between the two windows under each arch as a continuous two-story vertical (rather than stopping the mullion at a horizontal to allow the horizontal to dominate.  When I look at the comparison between the detailing in the two buildings, I prefer the Grannis for its horizontal repose, yet I can see Root trying to experiment with a more vertical accent for this taller building, as well as those he anticipates that will come.   Note that in both elevations he did not increase the thickness of the corner piers, signaling that the arches were not structural but simply cut into the brick surface (i.e., honesty”). 

Apparently, the owners thought that the lowered first floor (basement) was not a highly marketable feature, for the Calumet had no raised basement: the ground floor’s two offices were a mere two feet above the sidewalk.  The upper eight floors were the same in plan: seven offices so arranged that all of their doors were in view from the elevator shaft.  In its construction, the Calumet was also more like the less extensive Grannis Block.  Wood joist floors were supported by the exterior brick walls and an interior fireproofed iron frame.  The wood joists were “fireproofed” with terra-cotta tiles that were supplied by Wight’s new competitor, E.V. Johnson’s Pioneer Fireproofing Company.  

Advertisement for the Pioneer Fireproof Company, Inland Architect, April 1885. (Darling, Chicago)

Ernest V. Johnson was the son of George H. Johnson, the holder of the original patent for fireclay flat arches, an evolved design of which was first used in the Kendall Block in 1872 (see Vol. I). The 1873 Panic had forced George Johnson to retreat to New York, leaving Peter B. Wight and Sanford Loring to continue work on the use of fireclay to protect floors and iron structures.  Johnson had returned in 1877 and apparently there was some bad blood between Wight and Johnson (patent infringements? hence, the name of the new company), so Johnson had set up a competing company with George M. Moulton in Ottawa, Il, where there were extensive fireclay beds nearby. Following the death of his father in August 1879 Ernest became partners with Moulton and changed the name to the Pioneer Fireproof Company.) Johnson evidently also manufactured the hollow tile wall partitions (that his father had originally patented in 1869) that allowed the arrangement of each floor to be easily changed.  

In keeping with the objective of minimum cost, the builders were experienced enough to eliminate the cost of furring and plastering the terra-cotta walls and ceiling by simply finishing all five surfaces in each room with wallpaper.  The building was renowned for having a different wallpaper pattern in each of the 58 offices. The only notable departure in the construction of the Calumet seems to have been the fact that the builders had laid the foundations in the fall of 1882 and allowed them to settle during the winter of 1882-83 (traditionally a time of little or no construction activity anyway), before they began the erection of the superstructure in the spring of 1883.  This may have been a response on the builders’ part to their experience with the construction of the Montauk and its foundations.


Hoffmann, Donald. The Architecture of John Wellborn Root. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973.

(If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to eMail me at: thearchitectureprofessor@gmail.com)


The same businessmen behind the move of the Board of Trade had their eyes on even bigger profits from developing the lots in the immediate area surrounding the new building hoping to make La Salle Street Chicago’s  new “Wall Street.”  As a ploy to generate the interest of potential investors in a venture as risky as moving the entire financial district of Chicago, P.D. Armour, Sidney Kent, and John Bensley commissioned Boyington, to the added disgust of Burnham & Root, to also prepare a design for their planned building (the Rialto) for the lot immediately to the rear of the Board of Trade and directly across Van Buren Street from the La Salle Street station.  In October 1882, following the start of excavation for the Board of Trade, and two months before the laying of its cornerstone, the owners made public Boyington’s design for a nine-story office building that expanded the Board of Trade complex to a scale so large that it should have boggled the minds of even Chicago’s most earnest booster.  Boyington’s design was not only equal to the size of the Burlington Building in plan, but was also projected to an average height of 154,’ which was even taller than the Montauk Block (to say nothing of its planned 200′ tower facing the La Salle Street Station).  Combined with the nine-story office building portion at the rear of the Board of Trade, these two “tall office buildings” should have given Boyington the reputation of being Chicago’s leading skyscraper designer in 1882.

Unlike the problem faced by Root in the Burlington Building of arranging a relatively small number of offices on a large site that resulted in its large, interior atrium, Boyington was asked to shoe-horn over 350 offices into the eight upper floors of the projected building.  Apparently, he wrapped the perimeter of the lot with a double-loaded corridor scheme that left a 28′ x 100′ external lightwell in the middle of the building to supply the inner ring of offices with light and ventilation (not unlike his design of the Grand Pacific Hotel or Burnham & Root’s design for the Rookery three years later).  The building was to be linked directly to the office block of the Board of Trade by bridges that spanned the alleyway between the two buildings (hence, the reason for covering the south wall of the Board’s office building with white glazed brick).  Boyington also tried to unify the two buildings by designing the new building in a complementary language.  His efforts, however, were completely in vain for the owners had no intention of erecting the building until the reason for its existence, the Board of Trade, was completed and in operation.  Why should they go out on a limb in case their plot failed?  Better to let others build first, so that their own project’s success would be assured.  But just to keep interest and construction in the area (as well as in the Board of Trade, whose cost was quickly overrunning its budget) growing, Armour, Kent and Bensley would trot out an updated version of what was touted as Chicago’s largest office building and announce the start of its construction whenever a potential investor or backer needed a little more commitment on their parts before he would commit to the start of construction on his project.


The Board of Trade sporting the Sperry Corona. Taken from the Home Insurance Building on left; on the right: Insurance Exchange, Maller’s Building, Gaff Building, and Counselman Building. (Wade and Meyer, Chicago)

Construction of the Board of Trade began in June 1882 with the laying of the foundation. Disregarding Baumann’s theory of uniformly-stressed footings, and apparently ignoring the current problems with the new Post Office’s foundation, Boyington surprisingly repeated the design of the Post Office’s “raft foundation.”  The excavation reached a risky 18′ below grade, where 3″ oak planks were first laid over the entire site and then firmly embedded in a layer of concrete.  Upon this layer were placed 12″ x 12″ oak timbers with 12-18″ intervening spaces that were also filled with concrete.  Another layer of oak planks was then spiked crosswise to the 12″ x 12″s and again covered with concrete, completing the three-foot thick slab.  A layer of three-foot thick stone was then placed on the concrete slab, which then received the building’s stone foundation walls.  All told, the foundation was a six-foot thick slab or “raft” that covered the entire site and was proudly, but naively claimed to be “as heavy as the superstructure to be placed on it.”

The foundation was sufficiently completed to allow the cornerstone to be laid in a brief ceremony on December 13, 1882.  One person who most likely did not attend was Root, who had married Dora Louise Monroe the day before (December 12 – think the choice of this date was simply coincidental?).  Dora had been the best friend of Root’s late wife, Minnie, and had a younger sister, Harriet, who would become a leading American poet, the founder of Poetry magazine, and Root’s first biographer.  

It would take another two and a half years to construct the entire building before another ceremony on April 28, 1885, would dedicate America’s tallest building. We will return to the grand opening gala later in the blog, but many things will have changed over those important two and half years that we need to understand and appreciate before we can join in the celebration of its completion.

Elmer A. Sperry, Board of Trade, 1885. Sperry’s Corona at Night. (Chicago Graphic News)

There are a few issues, however, that I think are best discussed now, rather than later.  The crowning glory planned for the tower was, unfortunately not in place on April 28, 1885.  Elmer A. Sperry, Chicago’s electric light entrepreneur (who would go on to found the Sperry Corporation that was responsible for developing “gadgets” from gyroscopes used in WW1 to the UNIVAC computer series when it merged with the Remington-Rand Corporation in 1955) had designed a nineteen-foot high “corona” of twenty electric arc lamps to be placed on top of the tower’s spire. 

Sperry had attempted to have the installation completed for the opening banquet but fell ill and had to delay the work until the end of the year, when the installation was in place that increased the height of the tower to 322.’  The corona’s spire was topped with a gilded iron schooner that was 8’ high and 11’ long.  From the 6” diameter iron mast that supported the ship were suspended four fourteen-feet long arms that supported the ring of lamps in such a manner that it could be lowered to a balcony where the lamps were accessible for maintenance.  

Close-up of Sperry’s Corona. (Wade and Meyer, Chicago)

On the night of New Year’s Eve 1885/6, Miss Zula Goodman, a recent acquaintance of Sperry’s whom he who would soon make his wife, threw the switch with a playful “let there be light.”  And indeed, there was light: 40,000 candlepower!  It was said that on a clear night, the corona could be seen from Benton Harbor, Michigan, some 75 miles away!  The corona generated sufficient light in the evening that one could read a book within a four-block radius. The Tribune reported that “The atmosphere was very luminous, and as far away as Douglas Park (4 miles away) houses cast shadows from the light.”  (I would be interested if anyone knows how long each night the corona was lit and for how many years it operated?)

Already controversial in design and construction, the building’s final cost totaled over $1,730,000, 75% more than the figure initially budgeted.  What made matters only worse was the poor design of the building’s foundation.  Instead of placing the entire building on one, monolithic raft, as was done, the heavier, concentrated weight of the tower should have been physically isolated from the rest of the building and placed on its own foundation, completely independent of the foundation supporting the rest of the building, that would have allowed it to settle at its own rate,  The heavier tower was going to settle much more than the rest of the building, and if need be, it would take its portion of the raft foundation with it, which was exactly what happened.  A six-foot thick foundation of timber-reinforced concrete simply was not strong enough to spread the load of the tower, nor resist the extra settlement of the tower.  Cracks began to appear caused by the difference between the tower’s greater settlement and that of the rest of the body of the building.  During January 1894, small chunks of granite began to fall off the tower. (Fortunately, the tower waited to fail until after the 1893 Fair was over. Imagine what fun the New York Press would have had if the tower began to fail only four or five months earlier….) The Board’s Directors queried Boyington on the problem who responded:

“There is no danger of this tower falling. It leans now about nine inches to the north. It has leaned over four and one-half inches at the time it was constructed. It can’t fall until the center of gravity is displaced, and that would mean a settling and leaning of ten feet.”

Drawings of Cracks in the Board of Trade due to the differential settlement of the Tower. Chicago Tribune, January 21, 1894. (Chicagology.com)

The Directors were in no mood to own “The Leaning Tower of Chicago” and voted to have the tower dismantled.  The Boston firm of Shepley, Rutan, and Coolidge, who had just opened a Chicago branch office the year before, were hired to manage the project and redesign the area from where the tower would be removed.  

Shepley, Rutan, & Coolidge, Redesigned Tower of Board of Trade, 1894. (Chicagology.com)

By June 1894 the tower was gone, leaving Burnham & Root’s Masonic Temple as the tallest building in Chicago.  By then, however, New York had already reclaimed the record of the country’s tallest building with the completion of Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World Building, completed on December 10, 1890, with a height of 310’ and a spire that topped off at 350.’  And guess who was the architect? But of course, George Post, who else?

George B. Post, New York World Building, New York, 1889-90. (Online)

A side note: The Root family gained a modicum of satisfaction after the original loss in 1881 of the Board of Trade commission.  Root’s son, John Wellborn Root, Jr. would design the building’s replacement that now terminates the La Salle Street vista, in 1925.  It was then and would remain Chicago’s tallest building until 1965.  The ghost of the proud papa could stand in the Burnham & Root office on the top floor of the Rookery and proudly watch his son’s tower rise into the heavens, surrounded by seven of his own designs within a one block radius (the Insurance Exchange, the Rialto, the Counselman, the Phoenix, the Traders, and the Commerce Buildings, and of course, the Rookery).  

John Wellborn Root and John Wellborn Root, Jr. (Online)
Holabird & Root, Board of Trade, Chicago, 1925. (Online)

The tower pierced the 260’ height limit enacted in 1920 that Root’s former partner Daniel Burnham had intimated would eventually be enacted in his 1909 Plan of Chicago. We will discuss at the end of Volume III why the height of his son’s building defying his former partner’s vision for the future Chicago might have brought a warm smile to Root’s spirit… 

Daniel Burnham, Edward Bennet and Jules Guérin (Illus), The Plan of Chicago, 1909. (Online)

(If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to eMail me at: thearchitectureprofessor@gmail.com)